Tesla Opens First Charging Station With Solar Power, On-Site Energy Storage in China

Tesla has opened a charging station with solar power and on-site energy storage in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, according to a social media post on Weibo. Although Tesla doesn’t have a showroom in Tibet, it cited the region’s ample sunlight as a reason for the move.

China is Tesla’s second largest market despite recent weak sales and tensions between the United States and China that can blow over to private U.S.-based companies like Tesla. The Chinese government recently banned Tesla vehicles from parking at government-owned facilities due to concerns about their cameras capturing footage of sensitive activities. Although Tesla denies that the cameras are active, it recently opened a data storage facility in China in an effort to address the issue.

China heavily relies on coal rather than renewable energy for its electricity, which may have fed into criticism that Tesla still relies on fossil fuels to recharge its electric vehicles. Efforts to remedy the matter include a recent partnership with Fastned to develop a network of 1,000 solar powered charging stations across Europe, most of which will likely include Tesla’s Superchargers.

Tesla also purchased SolarCity for $2.6 billion in 2016, which gave the company access to the Solar Roof and Powerwall battery. These two products are currently sold together on Tesla’s website and could still go mainstream despite Elon Musk’s recent admission that the company bungled pricing badly enough for residential customers to file lawsuits related to unexpected price hikes that may be rolled up into a class-action lawsuit by a Californian court.

Despite the challenges, Tesla has indicated that it plans to expand its solar energy business. These technologies may make it possible for commercial applications like electric vehicle charging stations to make use of solar energy 24/7. Tesla recently posted job openings for solar and energy storage project managers in China, which could indicate that the company plans to build a respectably sized network of solar powered charging stations within the country if the station in Tibet is a success.

Tesla does not seem to plan to sell many Teslas in Tibet, an impoverished region whose population has been the victim of China’s human rights abuses. China’s actions against leading Tibetan religious figures like the Dalai Lama has caused contention around the world. China has especially sparked controversy by saying that the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation must “comply with Chinese laws and regulations.” The Dalai Lama has hinted that he may choose not to reincarnate rather than allow China to use any possible future incarnation as a political pawn.

“They say they are waiting for my death and will recognize a 15th Dalai Lama of their choice. It is clear from their recent rules and regulations and subsequent declarations that they have a detailed strategy to deceive Tibetans,” he said.

Tesla’s new charging station may purely benefit visiting Chinese residents who work for the government or are passing through Tibet, as it is unlikely that there will be strong demand for its electric vehicles in the impoverished and downtrodden region. From an environmental standpoint, though, it could help to negate the appearance that electric vehicles sold in China will rely too much on coal for their electricity.